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Icelandic Production Heats Up

With six features preemed so far this year, and a seventh scheduled for Christmas, tiny Iceland is going through its most fecund production period to date. Since the ’80s, the annual average has generally yo-yoed between two and four pics a year.

Two new pics

The two latest pics to open – Hilmar Oddsson’s “Tears of Stone,” about the composer Jon Leifs in ’30s Berlin, and Gisli Snaer Erlingsson’s “Benjamin Dove” – have been well received locally and are expected to travel in the coming year. Still to open is Egill Edvardsson’s “Agnes,” a 19th-century drama about the last woman to be hanged in Iceland.

Most production here takes place during the summer, when long hours of daylight (up to 24 in midsummer) mean fewer total working days for crews. Few pics are shot during the winter, apart from those (like Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s recent “Cold Fever”) which make special use of the harsh weather and short days.

Winter fun

Despite the difficulties of winter shooting, Fridriksson plans to start shooting his next feature, “Devil’s Island,” in January. The $3 million family dramedy, set in the ’50s, will be the most expensive Icelandic movie to date. Fridriksson and his company, Icelandic Film Corp., are now the dominant force in moviemaking here.

“From now on,” he says, “we plan to make four features a year, instead the six we’ve produced in 1995 – and put more effort into each.” On “Cold Fever, ” Fridriksson co-produced with U.S. and Japanese sources; on “Devil’s Island, ” he’s partnered with Danish, Norwegian and German companies.

The helmer claims the decline in the state-funded Icelandic Film Fund’s resources is driving local talent out of the country. “It would be easier to make ‘Devil’s Island’ in English and on locations abroad, but the story is so Icelandic that we did everything to keep the production based here,” says Fridriksson.

Set up in 1979, and a major component of the industry’s growth in the past 15 years, the IFF has had no real increase in its 110 million kronur ($1.8 million) annual budget for some years.

Nobel bang-up

Unlike most Icelandic filmmakers, Gudny Halldorsdottir has her own company and is one of the few directors not reliant on equipment from other productions. She’s to shoot her third feature, “The Honor of the House,” early next year. A drama about two sisters at the turn of the century, pic is the second to be adapted from the work of her father, Nobel Prize winner Halldor Laxness, and looks to be very different from her last, the ironic comedy “The Men’s Choir.”

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